Friday, July 15, 2022

Hypocrisy: US take on Saudi Arabia

Fareed Zakaria Special report on Saudi Arabia 

Fareed Zakaria's report is the most comprehensive and accurate report I came across in US media. Yet there is so much that was not said. Is it ignorance or hypocrisy, I cannot say.

Every day I hear on CNN how Saudi Arabia should be a pariah state because of the assassination of Khashoggi. I wish it could be the norm. I wish the US would make China, Iran, Putin, those who killed Abu Akleh pariahs and cut all discussions and dealing with them. It will not happen because the same people calling for cutting relations with the Saudi regime are calling for an Iran deal and removing tariffs on Chinese imports and had been pandering to Putin until a few months ago.

Saudi Arabia has historically played the role of backing the status quo in the Middle East, promoting dictatorship and antidemocratic regimes. During the cold war, Saudi Arabia was the hand of US policy facing the Soviet Union and any revolution was deemed communist, whether it was ideologically socialist or just movements calling for freedom. Ronald Reagan received the Taliban in the White House and called them freedom fighters. Saudi Arabia backed them and promoted their brand of Islam encouraged by the US. 

1980s — CIA’s covert Operation Cyclone funnels weapons and money for the war through Pakistani dictator Mohammed Zia-ul Haq, who calls on Muslim countries to send volunteers to fight in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is among the thousands of volunteers.

1983 — President Ronald Reagan meets with mujahedeen leaders, calling them freedom fighters, at the White House.

The political alliance between the House of Saud - Saudi Arabia's ruling royal family - and orthodox Wahhabi clerics is as old as the nation, resulting in billions funneled to and through the Wahhabi movement. During the nineteen sixties, seventies and eighties, the people of the Middle East suffered from this alliance, and we never heard the rhetoric we hear today against Saudi Arabia. During the nineteen nineties extremism swept the Arab world destroying societies and hopes. 

"Less-well-funded governments and other strains of Islam can hardly keep up with the tsunami of money behind this export of intolerance," Murphy said.

The result was a Saudi society that supported the Ben Laden ideology. The House of Saud was also the enemy of Ben Laden due to their alliance with the US. 

al-Qaeda, Arabic al-Qāʿidah (“the Base”), broad-based militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s.

Al-Qaeda began as a logistical network to support Muslims fighting against the Soviet Union during the Afghan War; members were recruited throughout the Islamic world. When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the organization dispersed but continued to oppose what its leaders considered corrupt Islamic regimes and foreign (i.e., U.S.) presence in Islamic lands.

Yet until today we never heard an acknowledgement of the responsibility the US bears in the creation of Al Qaeda and the spread of Wahabism. On the Lead on CNN today, I just heard a survivor of 9/11 criticize Biden for meeting with Saudi Arabia's king and prince. Not a word about the role of US foreign policy and the destruction it brought about on the peoples of the Arab region.

Religious reforms are touching nothing but changing everything

Saudi Arabia is now on the road of change. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is pushing his country into major social reforms, rousing concern about a backlash from the kingdom’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi religious establishment.  Young Saudis, particularly women are applauding; re-opening of movie theaters after more than 30 years; a pop musical performance by Egypt’s Cairo Opera; the inauguration of construction on an entertainment city outside Riyadh three times the size of Disney Land in Florida; and a “royal rumble” put on by World Wrestling Entertainment attended by 60,000 Saudis. 

This does not mean that Saudi Arabia is transforming into a democracy. Saudi Arabia is witnessing an unprecedented centralization of power in the hands of just one prince who brooks no opposition or even the slightest hint of criticism. So, MBS, as he is often called, is a dictator. Fine, so are many dictators the US deals with on a regular basis.

However, the social reforms will lead in the long term to a change in society, customs, and thus culture. This should be encouraged, so it is not the time today to punish Saudi Arabia for what the US encouraged it to be some time ago.

Soft diplomacy will go a long way in undoing the wrongs of the past.

Friday, July 1, 2022

The rulings of the US Supreme Court do not make sens, or do they?

 US supreme court rules against EPA and hobbles government power to limit harmful emissions

US supreme court overturns New York handgun law in bitter blow to gun-control push

US supreme court overturns abortion rights, upending Roe v Wade

The discourse about the US Supreme Court rulings is complex and has legal rationale and justifications. 

True, but keeping it simple:

They ruled against restricting harmful emissions that all agree harm babies and children's health; in parallel they rule against abortion to protect unborn fetus rights. Does this make sense to you?

They ruled against restricting guns that are killing school children, in parallel they rule against abortion to protect unborn fetus rights. Does this make sense to you?

Yes, it makes sense. The rulings fall in line with the ideology of the extreme right and Trump. 

The rulings are divided along the lines of Judges appointed by Democrats and judges appointed by Republicans. Clearly, it is no more an issue of law and objective review of laws, it is directly linked to ideology.

The composition of the court is a perfect exemple of minority rule. The ideology it represents is not a matter of consensus inside the American society. Is it a failure of democracy or a failure of liberals and the left, a failure of Democrats? 

It is definitely a win for a coalition of religious right with white supremacy movements, their tools are a smart utilisation of social media, Fox news, charismatic politicians, voter apathy, and a broken liberal alliance.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

It is time for peace: to help Ukraine we need to give Putin a clear exit

I wrote the blog in April.

Since then Russia changed it's tactics. They no more aim for a quick victory. They are now concentrating on blocking the black sea ports and gobbling cities of the dispute areas one by one. Bomb to rubbles and when cities are empty of citizens and totally levelled to the ground, occupy.

It might be too late to profit of the original win of Ukraine. Still, helping Ukraine now is pushing for a resolution of hostilities, stop the destruction, regroup, and then wait for the economic sanctions to bite.

There is no clear other way to win the war.

Yesterday, world leaders at the G7 summit strongly condemned Russia’s attack on a shopping centre that Ukraine says has killed at least 20 civilians. 

But amid the statements of western unity, there lies a nagging fear: will it endure? As the conflict enters a phase of attrition with both sides digging in, the conflict shows no signs of coming to a conclusion this year. And with the global food and cost of living crises hitting voters, will the world’s richest democracies stay the course as they are promising to do?

April 29 2022

The businessman says ‘90% of Russians’ are against Ukraine invasion and calls on the west to give Putin a clear exit

Further arming Ukraine will only destroy it. The west must act to end this war now

These two articles seem out of tune with the saber rattling we hear. Ukranian courage, the David against Goliath good feeling it provokes, and the horror of war crimes should not hide the reality. We need to support Ukraine by pushing for an end to the war.

The UN failed, Guterres failed to prevent the war. He did not even try. Guterres inaction undermined the role of the UN. 

True resolutions are vetoed, still the Secretary General actions have weight if he uses them effectively. Franz Baumann, a UN assistant secretary general until 2015, told the Guardian that before the war started, the secretary general should have gone to Moscow to demand Putin say if he was sincere when he said the troop movements on Russia’s border of Ukraine did not represent a threat to the integrity of Ukraine, and “if he did not get a satisfactory answer he should have gone to Beijing to the Winter Olympic ceremonies to ask the same question of Russia and China when they met.

Arming Ukraine should be a tactic aimed at improving its chances in negotiating a favorable deal in future talks for a peaceful settlement. 

Realistically Ukraine cannot win the war. War and destruction are on its territories, the civilians killed are Ukrainians, the refugees are Ukrainian, the homes destroyed are Ukranian, the infrastructure is Ukranian. Russians are living safe and normal lives. The Russian economy is not dramatically affected, at least, not in the short term. And most importantly Putin does not care about losing soldiers or equipment or popular support. 

The world is known for lacking the ability to empathy for long. The Europeans will soon start to be fed up with sacrificing for Ukraine, government will change, the same will happen in the US. 

Ukraine bravery and the support of the West resulted in a victory. Kiev did not fall, Putin was not able to sweep into the city, remove Zelinsky and install a puppet government. 

It is time for Western leaders to stop using Ukraine as a tool in their game of nations and push for negotiations and a settlement when it is still time to save Ukraine.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Democrats and Liberals in the US do not betray women's rights, once more!

 When the draft opinion of Supreme court overturning Roe vs Wade was leaked, I wrote the blog ''Liberals, women, and unconcerned voters, it is time to wake up!'' It says it all. Take the time to read.

Yet even after the leaked draft, polls show that Republicans Trump leaning will be elected. Democrats, liberals, and women rights movements failed to unify their message focusing on the consequences of voting for people who are 'pro-life' pro death penalty, pro guns, are antivaxx, are against sexual rights, and believe that racism in a myth.

Republicans and extreme right media succeed to have voters focus, only, on inflation though they do not have a solution to the problem. The Democrats and liberal media failed in having voters understand that abortion, guns, racism, social justice, health policies, affect their lives more.

According to Politico Forecast 2022

We rated every race in play in 2022. This is who we think will win.
Last updated May 27, 2022, 6:13 p.m. GMT+2
THE SENATE Leans Republican
THE HOUSE Likely Republican 
We predict most Americans will be led by Democratic governors.

 The betrayal is deeper than at the election's level. Why wasn't there an effort to vote Roe vs Wade into state laws to ensure that it cannot be turned.

Codifying abortion protections into state law “really is the strongest protection that a state could give,” said John Culhane, professor of law at Widener University Delaware Law School

With the overturn of Roe, only about sixteen states will be able to continue providing abortion services without restriction or with minor restrictions said RuthLytle-Barnaby president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Delaware.

Known as the first State to ratify the US constitution, Delaware was also the first in the wake of Trump’s election to codify Roe into state law in 2017, protecting the right to abortion even if the landmark supreme court decision is overturned.

Why didn't all blue states do the same? 

States can also pass laws protecting providers if patients travel from states where abortions are banned, as Washington and Connecticut have done. Such protections may be necessary given the likelihood of states seeking to crack down on out-of-state travel for abortions.

Time to wake up at all levels.

And to those on the left I say, it is time to mobilize and stop dithering on voting against the extreme right otherwise we will soon have the government police all women rights including how we live or dress. And this will be closely followed by a biblical law as to sexual rights.

Policeman from the West Palm Beach police force, measuring the bathing suit of Betty Fringle on Palm Beach, to ensure that it conforms with regulations, in 1925.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Liberals, women, and unconcerned voters, it is time to wake up!

Supreme court voted to overturn Roe v Wade abortion law, leaked draft opinion reportedly shows 

Time to wake up!

I have been dreading for years this moment. Populism and the Extreme Right in addition to culture wars have eroded the US democracy. It will have a domino effect worldwide.

I am angry.

Angry at the infighting of Democrats, liberals, and racial minorities. It is as if the Conservative movement and National Socialism do not exist. The liberal media under fear of being dubbed biais end up extremely criticizing Biden or what he represents. There is no need to lie, just focus also on the positive side, for example low rates of employment, the covid-19 assistance bills, etc.

People who do not believe in conspiracy theories and the big lie cower and remain silent, and often do not vote. Racial leaders just say 'they are not doing enough' forgetting that the Ku Klux clan is literally winning!

The other side is unified, supported by its media and is loud.

The end result, people say 'it is not worth it', and they do not vote. Trump is elected, he appoints a majority of super conservative to the Constitutional Court, Roe vs Wade is overturned and the rights of choice for a woman is undermined. White men decide for us, they own us!

The same goes for Senate and Congress, Conservatives get majority of strong minority and there is no way to pass a law confirming Roe vs Wade or any other law that guarantees many minority rights.

According to the analysis of the legal document, the argument used is that the Constitution does not mention abortion. Roe vs Wade was based on the 'right to privacy', meaning that the state has no role to interfere in the personal decisions of citizens. This is the same rationale used in connection to sexual rights incl. birth control, gay marriage etc.  

Dangerous! It is the entry point for sneaking reversing many rights and laws related to sexual rights.

Most Americans do not approve reversing Roe vs Wade, but they are sleeping and let the 'others' win.

Wake up and vote in the mid-term elections to people who support women and minority rights, human rights.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Lebanon elections 2022, a failure in leadership

The final results are not out yet. 

However, one could say that if we count the votes of all those in opposition, they represent a clear majority. 

Sadly, this will not translate in the parliament. 

Imagine the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb together with other 14th of March forces such as Hariri and Joumblatt and independents such as Mouawad and Souaid unified in common electoral lists with thinkers like Frangieh and Kassir in the background. 

Imagine all the forces that came out of the so-called revolution united in common electoral lists. Imagine these lists took the advice of politically savvy and experienced opposition opinion leaders. 

Why did this not happen? 

Each of these opposition factions are fractured internally. 

The 14th of March opposition are unified in most strategic goals. The so-called revolutionaries are not split along the lines Left and Right divides. Their ideological or political divide is on minor secondary tactical aims. 

The truth is that both opposition factions were competing for gains. Sad but true. 

In my modest opinion, all of them failed, they are not the leaders Lebanon needs these days. 

Let's hope they witness an awakening; that is the only salvation for Lebanon.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Liberals, women, and unconcerned voters, it is time to wake up!

Supreme court voted to overturn Roe v Wade abortion law, leaked draft opinion reportedly shows 

Time to wake up!

I have been dreading for years this moment. Populism and the Extreme Right in addition to culture wars have eroded the US democracy. It will have a domino effect worldwide.

I am angry.

Angry at the infighting of Democrats, liberals, and racial minorities. It is as if the Conservative movement and National Socialism do not exist. The liberal media under fear of being dubbed biais end up extremely criticizing Biden or what he represents. There is no need to lie, just focus also on the positive side, for example low rates of employment, the covid-19 assistance bills, etc.

People who do not believe in conspiracy theories and the big lie cower and remain silent, and often do not vote. Racial leaders just say 'they are not doing enough' forgetting that the Ku Klux clan is literally winning!

The other side is unified, supported by its media and is loud.

The end result, people say 'it is not worth it', and they do not vote. Trump is elected, he appoints a majority of super conservative to the Constitutional Court, Roe vs Wade is overturned and the rights of choice for a woman is undermined. White men decide for us, they own us!

The same goes for Senate and Congress, Conservatives get majority of strong minority and there is no way to pass a law confirming Roe vs Wade or any other law that guarantees many minority rights.

According to the analysis of the legal document, the argument used is that the Constitution does not mention abortion. Roe vs Wade was based on the 'right to privacy', meaning that the state has no role to interfere in the personal decisions of citizens. This is the same rationale used in connection to sexual rights incl. birth control, gay marriage etc.  

Dangerous! It is the entry point for sneaking reversing many rights and laws related to sexual rights.

Most Americans do not approve reversing Roe vs Wade, but they are sleeping and let the 'others' win.

Wake up and vote in the mid-term elections to people who support women and minority rights, human rights.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

EU gaz embargo will strengthen Putin, not weakens him

 Pressuring the EU to issue an all ban embargo on gaz will have dire effects on the war in the long run.

 Some European countries like Austria rely 80% on Russian gaz. Cutting the supplies now would be suicide. Austrians support Ukraine but not unconditionally. They are all for humanitarian aid, but more than half were against the visit of the PM, Karl Nehammer to visit Zelensky. Most Austrians are for preserving neutrality.

Austria is not alone in this respect though other EU countries fall in the in between lane. People sympathize, want to help Ukraine, feel it is a fair battle, but all of this stops when they are asked to give up everything. They are ready to sacrifice a bit, but no more. 

Even countries like the UK and the US who support fully Ukraine fall within the same category. They do not rely heavily on Russian energy so the consequences of embargo are minimal. Even these minimal effects such as soaring energy prices are badly received. Let's not forget that energy fuels most of the inflation. Energy cost enter into manufacturing, supply chains, and so many other sectors that it would be impossible to list them all.

Inflation is already affecting the elections in the US favoring the Republicans that are today linked to Trump and his favourable approach to Putin. What do you think it will do in Europe? It will lead to the election of extreme right parties who overwhelmingly support Putin and have close ties with him.

The Hungarian elections proved that people will not elect based on their sympathy for Ukraine. Viktor Orbán never denied his good relation with Putin. Marie Le Pen in France is running on a platform of inflation, her close ties with Putin are not hurting her when facing Macron who is steadfast against Putin. The same applies all over Europe.

If extreme right parties win in Europe, it is a clear win for Putin and what he represents. It has been his aim for last decade, meddling in Brexit, Trump election, and so many other places. 

So let's stop this two dimensional approach and do not push the EU to commit suicide. 

Sanctions need to be well thought. If they hurt the sanctioning country more than the culprit country, then they are vane. Specially when the targeted country is a plutocracy or dictatorship where dissent is squelched violently and through misinformation. 

Iran is a good example.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

All children love Easter eggs and chocolate

By saying that only Christians celebrate Easter segregates between children and forces a religious identity on them.
It discriminates against atheists and those who like me, celebrate all holidays.

I am not a believer in any institutionalized religion, in fact I rarely think of the theological meaning of religions, on the practical side I can observe that most wars were waged by men in the name of God.

And I just love Christmas, Easter, Fitr, Adha, and any other occasion that includes children laughter, good food, and fun! Families get together, children laugh and are happy, there is magic in the air.

In addition hope is nice in the crazy violent times of today.

Let's stop segregating people by the holidays they celebrate and leave the children and all of us enjoy our celebration time! 

Happy Easter! 

Whether it represents resurrection, or rebirth, or renewal, Easter represents hope, and hope is therapeutic. And on top of it, chocolate bunnies and eggs are yummy!

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

13 April 2021, long-absent hope in Lebanon

And today 13 of April 2022 hope seems to be totally lost. For me, it is much more than what I wrote below, it is because hearing and reading media articles, videos, interviews, and social media posts, I came to realize that on April 13 1975 the deterioration of the fabric of society was triggered. Why and how is something that requires research. However, what is clear for me is that Lebanese civil society, political and media landscapes, so called intelligentsia, are failing to give birth to opinion leaders and statesmen or just decent people. Ignorance and arrogance are what I see these days. 
If you read what I wrote in 2005 and 2021 you will see an inevitable transition.

Today 13 April 2021 comes back in a landscape of despair. Lebanon is a failed state, an occupied country, a country where the fabric of society is torn. The banking sector that sustained the country during the direst moments of the civil war has been finally brought down. The youth of the country never experienced the rule of law. The media is just spouting clichés. 
I am sad to realize that it is our generation who is responsible for the demise. NOTHING is worth engaging in a civil war.
My optimism has been defeated, but I cannot give up. Lebanon is a part of me.

In 2005 I wrote published an article in The Daily Star.
Today, 13 April 2019 my hope has been defeated.
13 April 1975 was the start of the 15 years Lebanese Civil War, but then I can say that Lebanese civil war ended in 1978 and then started the era of Syrian intervention and then domination that ended in 2005 with the 14th of March event. But 2006 was the start of a new civil war without continuous military action, but as destructive for the fabric of society.
Today Lebanon is tired and hope for change is dwindling.
With those who lived Lebanon of before the war entering maturity and old age, it is clear that the new war generation are culturally very far from the Lebanese of before 1975.

Copyright (c) 2005 The Daily Star

Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Long-absent hope returns to Lebanon

By Khatoun Haidar
Special to The Daily Star

April 13, 1975, is a date that represents, for most of us Lebanese who are above 45 years of age, a frontier separating the often idealized Lebanon of before the war, and the insufferable reality of after April 13. For the youth of Lebanon, April 13 is just a controversial historical date. For them there is no dividing line; they grew up in a Lebanon ravaged by war, still suffering the sequels of occupation and a deep sectarian partition. A country where ambition is curbed and hope scarce
This would have been a perfect introductory paragraph to a piece commemorating April 13, if I was asked to write it before February 14. Today I cannot ignore the change, the atmosphere of revival, and the fact that more than half of the Lebanese population, waving the flag, took to the streets in two peaceful demonstrations. I cannot ignore the loud voice of the silent majority, and the strong participation of women and the youth. I cannot disregard the sight of two women standing side by side at Hariri's last resting place, one reading the Muslim prayer and the other performing the sign of the cross. I cannot neglect the reaction of defiance and the stress on national unity that followed four criminal explosions that targeted Christian areas. One has often dreamed of renewal, but never dared to imagine one. Today it is possible, the Lebanese people just need to reach for it, and then maybe April 13, 2005 will be a new frontier, that of the rebirth of Lebanon.
I am sure that many dismiss these signs as emotional reactions, and insist that the situation is much more complex than the popular mood. This is true in some way, yet it is not pure naivete to observe the manifestations of discontent and to measure the pulse of the population. Regimes that dismiss the well-being of their population by imposing an iron-handed approach to governing do so at their own risk. In fact, the mood of the Lebanese before and after the Hariri assassination takes root in the political developments that followed the Taif Agreement.
The Lebanese civil war that started on April 13, 1975 was officially ended on October 22, 1989, by the Arab League, sponsoring the Taif Agreement. By then, the Lebanese were weary and tired from a series of armed conflicts that at first took root in deep internal divisions but then became regional in nature. The end of the armed conflict did not bring the civil war to a real conclusion. There was no national reconciliation effort on the popular level, and Israel maintained its occupation of South Lebanon, which made the Syrian presence in Lebanon a de facto reality that nobody could contest without seeming to side with the enemy. Given this reality it would have been naive to expect the emergence of an independent democratic Lebanon.
In theory, Taif restored to Lebanon its Constitution, that guarantees freedoms and democracy. But under the pretext of national security necessities the country was ruled for the last 15 years by a false, imposed national consensus that destroyed accountability, the prime basis of democracy. The choices of ministers became a reflection of sectarian power centers and foreign intervention, resulting at all political junctions in deadlock. The parliamentary institution lost its meaning when deputies started falling in line when it came to the ministerial vote of confidence or presidential elections, whatever their previously declared positions. People felt powerless and many gave up on the electoral system.
Then in the year 2000, the South was liberated from Israeli occupation, and there was hope in the air, but soon it became clear that the status quo was here to stay, and that the country was sinking deeper under Syrian control. The signs of an organized effort to erode the few remaining liberties became more pronounced. This demise of democracy was exacerbated by a deep feeling of isolation as the international community showed a total lack of concern. The sense of hopelessness became stronger and young people had only one dream: leave the country.
Buried under this hopelessness was anger. The anger exploded when Hariri was assassinated. People took peacefully to the streets, the prime minister resigned, and the international community started paying attention. Out of it came a feeling of empowerment and hope.
For me this hope is embodied in the commune-like freedom tents in the middle of Beirut. There you find hundreds of youth of all religious sects that have been living there since the Hariri assassination. They organize daily activities under strict rules of behavior and you often find students from opposing parties communicating, building a basis for national reconciliation. School children visit and try to understand. The hope is that this generation, whatever happens, will never forget this experience.

Copyright (c) 2005 The Daily Star

Sunday, March 13, 2022

The Ukraine war through the eyes of Arabs

Clare Daly is an Irish politician who has been a Member of the European Parliament from Ireland for the Dublin constituency since July 2019 voted against a resolution condemning the war in Ukraine as "illegal, unprovoked and unjustified military aggression" by Russia. Though I do not approve her decision, I found that the reasons she gave are valid in themselves.

I wholeheartedly welcome the EU's  unprecedented provision of protection for Ukrainian refugees.
But how can this tremendous solidarity be reconciled with the indifference and unspeakable brutality shown by Europe to refugees from other countries?

Hearing her talk made me understand better why I see a reluctance on Arab mainstream media as well as social media to support Western actions as to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

There is empathy with Ukrainians, no dissent as to the unfairness of what they are subjected to, but there is suspicion about the motivations of the US, mainly. 

Conspiracy theories have been justified in the hectic and self serving actions of American  foreign policy in the region. From supporting dictatorships in oil countries since the 1970s, helping the spread of radical Islam during the cold war era, making deals with military regimes such as Assad in Syria and Saddam in Iraq, and never supporting democratic movements in the region in general. And more recently making deals with Iran, disregarding it's support of religious fanatic militias in Lebanon and Iraq. Not to mention the total support of any action Israel undertakes with no regards to human rights or the right to self determination of the Palestinian people from settlement to the 'apartheid' policy in the West Bank.  

There is an understanding of the European fear from Putin's Russia, yet a deep hurt about how Syrian refugees were treated in Hungary and Poland in comparison with Ukrainians.

The last straw was when Assad was allowed to murder his own people and gaz them with impunity. The West lost credibility and the ideals of human rights became irrelevant when applied only when it serves the interests of the West in the game of nations. 

Putin is acknowledged as a dictator and his actions in Ukraine are overwhelmingly condemned. Yet, between the lines, one can read that they do not trust the US to be different.

In short, there is empathy for Ukrainians, there is a deep belief that they are pions in a game of nation where they are paying the price for a war they are waging as victims on all sides. They are being used by the super powers. 

It is difficult to convince people to adhere the principles when they have been subjected to discrimination and neglect. It is important to relay the message that upholding the principles of democracy and freedom  is also in their own interest. 

Justice cannot be relative. We cannot pick and chose. The 'West' needs to understand it too.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Volunteers fight for Ukraine; mercenaries fight for Russia

Americans, Japanese, Canadians, British, thousands of volunteers from around the world are going to Ukraine to fight for ''freedom''. 

True that some have Ukrainian roots; others are military veterans with no family ties who have decided to fight with Ukraine’s army. It is said that fighters arrived from 52 countries, including the United States, Canada, Finland, Georgia, Sweden, Czech Republic, France, Belgium and Belarus.

For many, Ukraine, in their view, is now fighting Vladimir Putin and a 21st-century version of fascism. A clear echo of the Spanish Civil War when thousands of idealistic foreigners came to fight fascism between 1936 and 1938.

According to Reuters, dozens of former soldiers from the British army’s elite Parachute Regiment have reached Ukraine. Hundreds more will soon follow, one ex-soldier predicted. “They’re all highly, highly trained and have seen active service on numerous occasions,” the ex-soldier said. The Ukraine crisis would give them purpose, camaraderie and “a chance to do what they’re good at: fight.”

Gavrylko said he was aware of these historical echoes. Ukraine, in his view, was now fighting Vladimir Putin and a 21st-century version of fascism.“He wants to rebuild the Soviet Union as part of a Russian empire. It’s no secret,” he said. “Ukraine is in the middle of Europe. The west is pulling one way, Moscow another. Ukraine, the Baltic states, Poland and Moldova are all on Putin’s list.” Asked why Putin had attacked Ukraine now, after 20 years in the Kremlin, he said: “I get the feeling he is very ill.” The Guardian-Luke Harding in Lviv Fri 11 Mar 2022 10.21 GMT  

As images of Russian atrocities pile up, reports suggest the call has been widely heeded, with volunteers traveling from near and far to join — many from the Ukrainian diaspora, but also from further afield. According to Zelenskyy, more than 16,000 foreigners volunteered to fight in the first week of the conflict; just a few days later Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba put that number closer to 20,000. Fighters have reportedly arrived from 52 countries.  Opinion by NAUREEN C. FINK and COLIN P. CLARKE 03/10/2022 12:09 PM ES- 

In a parallel worlds Vladimir Putin declared that up to 16,000 volunteers from the Middle East will be deploying alongside Russian forces in Ukraine. Syria’s military has begun recruiting troops. Enlistment notices have been posted on regime linked websites in recent days, including profiles linked to the 4th Division, one of Bashar al-Assad’s core units. The promise of of $3,000 a month – a sum up to 50 times a Syrian soldier’s monthly salary will be very attractive to Syrian soldiers.

So it will be volunteers from around the world fighting mercenaries from Syria. 

After two weeks, it is a clear recognition that the Russian invasion struggles to maintain momentum. It is a confirmation that Putin and Bashar are two faces of the same coin. Gone the pretense of respectability that Putin worked hard to project for decades. He is becoming a paria despite his rhetoric and propaganda campaign. 

However it is important to explore the dangers of foreign fighters. Volunteering to fight for freedom may feel noble, but it adds some big risks to a volatile situation. Read the article below to explore the dangers.

 Foreign Fighters Are Heading to Ukraine. That’s A Moment for Worry

Georgian civilian volunteers say goodbye to friends and family at Tbilisi international airport before leaving to join Ukraine's army to fight against Russia forces, on Feb. 28. | Daro Sulakauri/Getty Images

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Putin’s experience is of being able to get away with almost anything he wants

Ukraine is paying the price for emboldening Putin by turning a blind eye to his behaviour in Syria. Compromising on human rights in one country (not in the European backyard) came back to hit us all in Ukraine, and who knows where else. 

Today NATO is dithering afraid of expanding the war. The threat of war is a strong weapon and the fear of war may be a drive for Putin to nibble all around the world increasing his power to fulfill his dreams of 'making Russia great again''.

Martin Chulov Middle East correspondent Wed 9 Mar 2022 19.28 GMT

''Even in its infancy, the Russian war in Ukraine has many parallels with the conflict in Syria: barely restrained savagery, the mass flight of terrified civilians, and wanton destruction. Now the use of foreboding pretexts can be added to a growing list, which was born amid the ruins of Grozny, Crimea and Donbas and fine-tuned on the civilian population of Syria’s beleaguered north.''  

A former senior Nato officer told the Guardian; 

“We are all victims of our experience, and Putin’s experience is of being able to get away with almost anything he wants in every dimension of warfare. The blatant fostering of frozen conflicts in high-profile nations such as Georgia and Ukraine, the widespread and hardly concealed undermining of governance through hybrid warfare, the use of the most brutal tactics, crushing of whole towns and cities along with their populations. 
“His experience is that you can grind out a win using heavy explosives in the full glare of western media attention. And with an extremely effective control of his own [patriotic] population, he has little to fear at home.”

The difference is that this time, his war is in Europe thus the strong sanctions that among other things have brought back Russians to a pre 1990 isolation and shortage of consumer goods and luxuries. No MacDonald, Coca Cola, Ikea, Nike, Carlsberg beer, Este Lauder make up, and Disney movies, among others such as Toyota, Mercedes etc.

The difference is that the bombs are falling on Ukrainians, a people that have close cultural ties with Russia. They look alike and speak Russian. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine is a former actor and comedian who had following in Russia. He was elected by 74% of the votes. 

The difference is that Mariupol the second largest in Donetsk Oblast is largely and traditionally Russophone, while ethnically the population is divided about evenly between Russians and Ukrainians. It is not Aleppo, a foreign land.  In both cases, it’s shell to hell, surround and besiege, then shell to hell again and offer concessions. Russian are seeing it, or at least hearing of it.

Putin is hoping to counter the flow of information by encasing Russian in a news bubble where they only hear the official Russian version of 'fighting Nazism' (sic). Now he is starting to use his influence with extreme right factions in Europe to spread his propaganda. It worked well for him in the past; Brexit, Trump, anti-vaxx, etc. Again Western complacency and to a certain extent lack of focus emboldened him in the past. Will it serve him well this time? 

The Guardian -Thursday briefing: Fears Russia may use chemical weapons

Western officials have warned of “serious concern” that Vladimir Putin could use chemical weapons on Kyiv as Russian propagandists spread what the US has called “false claims about alleged US biological weapons labs and chemical weapons development in Ukraine”. “We should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them,” wrote the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki. Experts have pointed to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, where Russia is involved. The Kremlin has produced no evidence to support its weapons lab claims, which were called “preposterous” by Psaki and have been dismissed by Ukraine’s government.

The broad assumption of impunity unquestionably was behind the invasion of Ukraine, it also put Putin in a psychological position where he believes that treating Ukraine same as Syria is feasible. He learned to pay no regard to international red lines. The sustained and overwhelming use of heavy bombardment aimed at undermining public confidence and as a tool of intimidation now being seen in Mariupol was honed in Syria, where Russia barely used precision-guided munitions. Will he go a further step and use chemical weapons?

Obama's ''drawing a line'' at the use of chemical weapons in Syria that became 'erasing the line' to compromise with Putin and save Assad emboldened Putin.

Will the NATO dithering and the complacency of the West emboldens him even more? Or did Europe learn the lesson?

Aftermath of Russian bombardment of the Mariupol maternity hospital. Photograph: EyePress News/Rex/Shutterstock

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Sanctions have chilling effect on democracies, what about Russia

 The talk of the day is sanctions and whether sanctions make sense, or if they change anything. Will they make Putin reconsider his strategy? Will they affect his approval rates internally?

Many in the world and in particular in the Middle East say that sanctions are useless giving Iran as an exemple. The regime did not fall and the country survived. What about Putin and Russia, will they be affected by sanctions?

Bobby Ghosh wrote Iran’s Economic Resilience Is Mostly a Mirage. The government likes to boast about self-reliance in the face of sanctions, but in reality the regime in Tehran is struggling with rampant inflation, joblessness and other miseries.

Whatever is one's opinion numbers do not lie. Iran per capita GDP in 1978 was 2,168.87 USD. Today, four decades later it hovers around the same number. Talk about stagnation!

n June 2010, President Obama worked with Congress to pass the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA), which strengthened existing U.S. sanctions against Iran in the areas of refined petroleum sales, serious human rights abuses, and Iran's access to the international financial markets. 

Sanctions' resulted in a contraction of GDP per capita: 6,599.66 USD in 2010,  4,904.33 USD in 2015,  2,282.55 USD in 2020.

High unemployment rates spiked and are set to increase given Iran’s economic struggles. An estimated 12.4% of the population was out of work in 2021, according to IMF projections. There are shortages of water, electricity, consumer goods, and the Iranian Rial crushed and is in continuous deterioration.

The Iranian people are suffering, they have been protesting for a decade to no avail. (see list of major flashpoints below)

So why is Iran still defiant? Simply because it is a religious dictatorial regime who does not care for the wellbeing of  citizens. Does Putin falls under the same category of ruler? Will Russians accept a dramatic change in everyday life and lifestyle?

Sanctions are blowing holes in the Russian economy from overseas asset freeze on the Russian central bank to a ban on buying sparkling wine from a bottler in Crimea. The rouble has collapsed, there were long lines in front of ATM machines, Russian can no longer pay by visa card, they cannot buy a MacDonald, they cannot travel, they cannot buy an iPhone, they cannot watch a Hollywood movie, in short, they have been pushed out of the consumer world they love so much. 

Even if oligarch and the regime dodge some of the sanctions, will Russians accept a form of return to Soviet era of isolation? a total change of lifestyle, for what? occupying Ukraine?

Putin has imposed a media block, Russians are living in a 'truth' bubble. Yet banning Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites will definitely get the addicted young generation to wonder why? 

We are seeing protests daily in many cities despite the harsh treatment and arrest that can lead to imprisonment. 

March 6th, Russia's interior ministry said that police had detained around 3,500 people, including 1,700 in Moscow, 750 in St Petersburg and 1,061 in other cities. I doubt these are accurate number, we have to assume greater numbers.

Anyway, this is an impressive and indicative number giving the risk these people are taking.

It may take years, but the sanctions in addition to the 'no war' movement are the seed of change. In what direction, we need to wait and see.

The main question remains, how much the people of Europe are ready to sacrifice for supporting freedom and democracy, because sanctions will also hurt Europe.

Fact Sheet: Protests in Iran

2017-18 Economic Protests

Killed: at least 22
Detained: at least 3,700
Flashpoint: Economic Grievances
Scope and Location: Protests began in Mashhad but spread to more than 80 cities and provincial towns with at least 42,000 participants

On December 28, 2017, demonstrators in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, took to the streets to protest the government’s economic policies and the high prices of basic goods and commodities. The demonstrations quickly spread across the country to over 140 cities in every province, organized largely through social media messaging apps. The scope of the protests also expanded from economic woes to Iranian involvement in the Middle East and calls for regime change. Slogans included “not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran,” “leave Syria, think about us,” “Khamenei, shame on you, leave the country alone!" and "death to the dictator.” The protests were the largest and most intense since the 2009 Green Movement. But unlike the Green Movement, the 2017-18 protests were largely leaderless and disorganized. After two weeks of protests, at least 22 protesters were killed and more than 3,700 were detained. 

2019 Price Hike Protests

Killed: At least 304
Detained: At least 7,000
Flashpoint: Fuel Prices
Location and Scope: Protests spread to at least 100 cities and towns with more than 200,000 participants
In a surprise overnight announcement on November 15, 2019, Iran hiked gas prices—by up to 300 percent—and introduced a new rationing system. The government’s goal was to raise funds to help the poor, but it backfired. The protests swept 100 cities over four days. They first broke out in oil-rich Khuzestan province, in Iran’s southwest but quickly spread to other regions, including Mashhad, a conservative stronghold and Iran’s second largest city, in the northwest. Demonstrators reportedly chanted anti-government slogans, including, "Have shame Rouhani, Leave the country alone!"
The regime used tear gas, water cannons and live ammunition to disperse the protesters. The government also nearly completely shut down the internet for five days to prevent images of the protests and crackdown from spreading over social media.
By December 2, at least 208 protesters had been killed, according to Amnesty International. The Center for Human Rights in Iran estimated that 4,000 people were arrested. Iran rejected the reports by outside groups. The State Department estimated that the regime killed more than 1,000 people, including at least a dozen children, but acknowledged that verification was difficult. Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, said U.S officials “know for certain” that the death toll was in the “many, many hundreds.”

January 2020 Protests

Killed: unknown
Detained: at least 30
Flashpoint: Government cover-up of the downing of a Ukrainian airliner
Scope and Location: Protests began in Tehran but spread to all major cities, including at least 18 university campuses
On January 11, 2020, Iranians launched anti-government protests after officials admitted that the Revolutionary Guards had mistakenly shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. All 176 people on board, including dozens of Iranians, were killed. Iranians were enraged at the government’s incompetence and for denying responsibility for three days. In Tehran, demonstrators gathered at university campuses and shouted “Death to the liars.” On the second day, protests spread across other major cities despite the deployment of riot police, the Revolutionary Guards and plainclothes police. Protests were reportedly at 18 university campuses across the country. Demonstrators shouted “Clerics get lost!” and deliberately avoided walking over American and Israeli flags. Police reportedly used tear gas and live ammunition against protestors. By January 16, protests had largely subsided. Only small demonstrations were reported in Isfahan and Sanandaj during the funeral services in both cities for people killed who were on the flight.  
Iranian officials said that 30 people had been arrested for their involvement in “illegal” demonstrations. They dismissed  reports about violent crackdowns and said “legal protests” would be tolerated. Tehran’s police chief acknowledged that security forces had fired tear gas but denied that they had used live ammunition in the crackdown. It was difficult for international groups to gather estimates on number of protestors killed and detained. The government restricted journalists to limited coverage of the five-day protests.

The 2021 Iranian protests 

are ongoing protests in Iran, in many regions, to protest the ongoing water shortages and blackouts of electricity all over Iran, fuelling public anger. Protests erupted on 15 July to protest the water shortages and crisis, but soon was met with police violence and brutality.